Demos Kratos Theatro by George Powell
“The play’s the thing.”
That line from “Hamlet” flashed into my mind as I watched “A Night of Short Plays” by Dêmos Krátos Theátro at PianoFight in San Francisco.
The staging was simple, what little scenery there was in each short play was handled by the actors themselves, and the crowd was small and attentive.
But the point Shakespeare made in “Hamlet” was based on some psychology from his times — playwrights believed their works encouraged virtuous behavior in good citizens and pricked the conscience of malefactors.
And that was the overarching theme running through each of the three mini-plays presented, interspersed with comedy, music and some short interviews with performers. All of which added up to 90 minutes of vaudeville-like entertainment.
The evening began with a film clip showing what part plays have played in our culture, from Ancient Greece to present day. “Setting the stage” if you will,
The first small play, “Daughters of the Ocean” utilizes the Prometheus myth in a more modern context. Playwright Carol Lashof makes use of four actors and sounds rather than stage props, to convey a war between part of humanity and the Titan-led resistance, which is trying to liberate the world from human warmongering.
In the play, the Titan Prometheus has been captured and tortured but kept alive by medicines and machines, to continually suffer enough to eventually betray the revolutionaries.
The bulk of the performance consists of a debate about attempting to rescue Prometheus and end his suffering. The ensuing discussion is spirited, repetitious to make a point, with an ending that simply stops the debate.
The second playlet, “The Polling Place,” by Kenneth Heaton is more focused and dealt pointedly with voter suppression. Alicia Stamps as the voter and Richard Farrell as the highly bureaucratic poll worker, make an effective pair in a timely and well-conceived sketch about this ongoing method to make voting complex, convoluted and virtually impossible.
Between acts comedy interludes were the province of Amelia Adams, whose clownish character “Sal Monella” provides physicality, jokes and puns to keep the interactive audience laughing.
The final short play, “On the Precipice” by Cleavon Smith is an updated throwback to comedy duo Cheech & Chong’s sketches. In the 1970s, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong virtually owned the illicit drug humor that reflected those “high” times. This 2018 reboot has three people all being so high they lose track of what they intended to do, which was to vote. It’s like a trip in a stoner-friendly time machine and cleverly used to show how easily young adults can get side-tracked and miss their opportunity to vote.
Also a throwback, and the most lively parts of the evening were the musical interludes by Lauren Mayer. Her politically-charged lyrics were very funny and quite timely, and had me flashing back to one of the best comedy records of the 1950s and 1960s, Harvard-educated mathematician Tom Lehrer.
Mayer’s keyboard accompaniment echoed Lehrer’s piano stylings, and her lyrics for “The Sexual Harassment Prevention Song” were as sharp, catchy and relevant as most of Lehrer’s were. To hear a clever Lauren Mayer song for yourself, just go to YouTube: https://youtu.be/hbGfXXzjNZk. You won’t find a better use for three minutes of your time.
Dêmos Krátos Theátro is conceived by Utopia Theater Project. As Artistic Director Maryssa Wanless, who also narrates the evening, writes in her director’s note to the audience, “Ancient Greece was the birthplace of both Democracy and Theatre. And while they got a lot of things wrong, they understood the power of gathering and listening (I.e. theatre) in strengthening a democracy.”
I can also apply that sentence to this production. The enthusiasm and exuberance of the performers kept the audience thoroughly engaged. So if you desire an intimate, entertaining, timely and affordable theater experience, check out these “Plays By and For the People” called Dêmos Krátos Theátro at PianoFight, which is also a happening restaurant and bar. 144 Taylor St. in San Francisco. Next performances are September 14, 15, 28, 29 and October 5 & 6.